Remember John Street? The former mayor is back in the news, thanks to the swift and sensational downfall of Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) Executive Director Carl Greene. Over the last month, a revelation about Greene defaulting on his mortgage payments led to a spiral of allegations of sexual harassments cover-ups hidden from the PHA board as well as sketchy payments to Greene-led non-profits. The board quickly moved to suspend Greene, plus all contracts with outside vendors for fear of impropriety. Greene fired back with a lawsuit against the board, saying it ruined his reputation. Most bizarrely of all, reports surfaced that last year Greene had investigated Street staffer Kafi Lindsay under suspicion that she wasn’t coming into work.
Greene isn’t talking and has gone into hiding, supposedly receiving medical treatment for stress at a Maryland clinic. That’s where Street comes in—as chairman of the PHA board, he has taken the bulk of media inquiries, roasting Greene in the press, and taking some shots at Mayor Nutter to boot. Simultaneously, word leaked out that Street has been consulting about possible mayoral runs by former contenders Sam Katz and Tom Knox. What gives? PW sat down with the former mayor to hear more about what’s on his mind.
PW: Since you’ve canceled PHA’s outside contracts and the executive director has been suspended, how does this affect the way the agency is functioning right now?
Street: The agency is functioning. I met with the three deputy directors, each of which is responsible for a certain set of activities. I have been absolutely assured by them individually and collectively that everything PHA is committed to do will continue on schedule. Every significant professional, whether a lawyer or a consultant, that’s needed to do the work has been approved. There are some we thought were a little superfluous and not necessarily needed at this time; those people have not necessarily been activated.
PW: Have you had any contact with Mr. Greene since he went into treatment?
Street: None. His lawyer keeps buzzing around though.
PW: Has there been any response by the board to the lawsuit Mr. Greene filed?
Street: Not yet. We will probably engage a lawyer for that.
PW: Last year Mr. Greene investigated your staff member, Ms. Lindsay. Were there problems between you and Greene previously?
Street: Not that I know of, that’s the thing that was so shocking about it. In fact I was accused of doing too much for him, not too little. No one ever accused me of having a hostile relationship with Carl Greene, in fact people said, ‘you guys worked together really really well.’ Maybe too well.
PW: What do you think about criticism on the structure of the board, that it’s not accountable to any one person?
Street: I find that to be interesting. Carl Greene’s been here 13 years. No one criticized the board while he was building 6,000 houses. In fact no one criticized the structure of this board until just recently when it was found that he wasn’t paying his bills, apparently, and he had these sexual harassment complaints. But sexual harassment complaints have nothing to do with the governing structure of the board. In fact we think we can prove that he violated on numerous occasions board regulations by failing to bring those sexual harassment complaints to the board.
PW: Isn’t the bottom line that the board is responsible for accountability and oversight?
Street: That’s true. But if somebody embezzles money, I don’t know that you can always put in enough regulations to stop them. Here’s a person who knew that that stuff is supposed to come to the board, it’s as clear as glass, and didn’t do it. In fact he manipulated all the contracts and stuff so as to avoid bringing it to the board. I don’t know if that’s a governance problem. It’s an integrity problem on the part of the executive director but I don’t know if it’s a governance problem. This newfound attention to the governance is the kind of thing you can expect, but it’s a form of Monday morning quarterbacking, you know, they say hindsight is 20/20. You can always look back and say maybe you should have had another regulation. Well, we had a regulation. He lied about it. What else do you expect us to do?
PW: Was there any sense that accountability was lax because Greene was seen as so effective at his job?
Street: Sure. I think people had a tendency to give him the benefit of the doubt, and didn’t want to do anything to muck up the process. People were encouraged by the productivity. I was. I loved every minute of it.
PW: Is there any chance at all Carl Greene could continue as executive director?
Street: The board has a right to make a judgment on that. As you know it would be very difficult but in the end it’s a board decision.
PW: People ask why John Street and Mayor Nutter are sniping at each other in the media; why can’t they put their heads together for the good of Philadelphia?